The Romney Expectations Game
I am always interested to see how candidates approach the expectations game, during the closing moments of their campaign. Voter perception of how a candidate should do in a particular caucus or primary, can often mean the difference between whether a campaign surges or falters, heading into subsequent states. So, it was with interest that I read Republican Mitt Romney’s recent statement that he could finish second in both Iowa and New Hampshire and still remain a viable campaign moving on to subsequent contests in South Carolina, Florida, and the many states on February 5th.
While the expectations game is always replete with pitfalls for a long-time frontrunner like Romney, a second place finish in New Hampshire, coming on the heels of a similar result in Iowa, would be particularly damaging to his candidacy. Romney’s strength as a candidate has always rested on his frontrunner status in the early contests, despite his lagging in national polls that typically post Rudy Giuliani, and now Mike Huckabee, as the frontrunner.
In Iowa, where Huckabee has led in the polls for the better part of a month now, Romney could plausibly argue that a close second place finish represents his ongoing struggle with the national (and somewhat untested) frontrunner. But, also finishing second in New Hampshire, where Romney has led comfortably for months and enjoys a variant of home court advantage, would undercut the early state dynamic that has largely propelled his candidacy over the past year. A failure to win any early contest would significantly cloud Romney’s path to the nomination.

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